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The game's other score

Football matters on New Year's Day, sure, but a second set of rivals will march onto the field in Pasadena: the schools' bands.

December 31, 2006|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

Much of the band's energy emanates from Bartner, 66, a New Jersey native who remade the band after arriving at USC from Michigan in 1970. At first, he tried to do things the more disciplined Michigan way, but it wasn't working.

He sought counsel from the late Marv Goux, then a USC assistant football coach.

"He was the one who taught me we have to run it like a football team," Bartner said.

So rehearsals became pep rallies, performed on Cromwell Field across the street from football practice. Again and again during rehearsal last week, Bartner directed his band to turn toward the football team and to play -- that song again -- "Tribute to Troy."

He is unapologetic about his band's reputation for playing loud and often. "This is how I run my band," he said. "There's no reason why they can't play as loud and as often as we do."

The Heisman Trophy of the collegiate band world is the Louis B. Sudler Trophy, awarded each year to the band selected by college band directors for a tradition of excellence. No band can win twice.

Michigan was the first Sudler Trophy winner in 1982. UCLA took home the cup in 1997. USC has never won.

Band directors hesitate to rank bands publicly, although the Ohio State marching band is widely considered one of the top two or three nationally. In fact, Bartner said his favorite band -- after USC's -- is Ohio State's, which won the Sudler Trophy in 1984.

Jon Woods, the Ohio State band director, said that although Big 10 schools of the Midwest historically have boasted strong bands, "we're now in a period where the Pac 10 has some fine bands. USC, Washington, UCLA, Cal Berkeley."

Woods commends Michigan's band for maintaining its traditional pregame high-marching style while switching to a more contemporary style at halftime. The USC band, by contrast, uses the same marching style in pregame and halftime shows and is more Top-40 oriented, Woods said.

Embedded in the bands' psyches is the same intense desire to give their teams the musical jolt to win games.

"It seems like our band never stops cheering," said Effinger of USC.

Michigan players said that when the pressure mounts, it's not so much about music as it is about cheering.

"We are the No. 1 Michigan football fan," LaCross said. "When we're in a rut, when we're down 14 points, we're all screaming as loud as we can. We're screaming our hearts out."

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